Numlock News: May 13, 2022 • Moon Dust, Air Quality, El Salvador
By Walt Hickey
Have a great weekend!
Hundreds of thousands of Americans rely on motorized wheelchairs, which in the dense jargon of medical device technology are called "complex rehabilitation technology." They can cost tens of thousands of dollars, but users often run into significant issues obtaining service and replacement parts on the wheelchairs, despite the $56 billion durable medical equipment industry ostensibly existing to keep the wheels in motion. The reason? There are just two companies that combined own pretty much half the entire wheelchair industry, Numotion and National Seating and Mobility, both owned by private equity companies and both the result of multiple suppliers consolidating in the wake of a Medicare decision that made prices set by bidding instead of pre-set prices.
Plants have successfully been grown in soil from the moon, and the main conclusion of the study was that the plants really, really hated that. There have been just 842 pounds of moon rocks brought back to Earth by the six Apollo crews, and NASA gave the University of Florida 12 grams of it for the attempted planting last May. The plant they chose was Arabidopsis, which is related to mustard. They then compared the outcomes of the seedlings grown in moon soil with the outcomes that were grown in JSC-1A, an aggregate which is used to simulate growth in the non-Earth soil. Overall, growth was slower, more erratic, didn't grow as tall, had awful coloring and was overall wrong.
Ironically, In Need Of A Savior
The value of many cryptocurrencies is in free fall, and besides the staggering financial hole it's carving in its fans' wealth, it's also provoking a bit of a geopolitical issue for El Salvador. That country's leadership decided to make El Salvador the first country to accept bitcoin, a popular cryptocurrency, as legal tender, and that the government would buy $25 million worth of crypto. Rating agencies and the IMF cautioned that wagering the nation's financial health on an incredibly volatile asset was not, necessarily, fiscally prudent, especially with El Salvador on the hook for an $800 million foreign debt Eurobond payment in January 2023. Well, the collapse of bitcoin means that El Salvador's bonds are trading at only 40 percent their original value, and Moody's just downgraded their credit rating to junk, following Fitch doing the same in February.
Lots of the things that people don't like about cities — like worse air quality — are actually not the city's fault entirely, but rather attributable to traffic from commuters from outside of the city. For example, an analysis from the Alamo Area Council of Governors now argues that only 20 percent of the ground-level ozone in San Antonio is attributable to the city itself, with the other 80 percent coming from other parts of Texas and Mexico, and that a significant dip in nitrogen oxide in the city during COVID-19 lockdowns was mainly due to car traffic from outsiders declining.
The baby formula shortage in the United States continues to rise in severity, with the out of stock rate increasing to 43 percent in the first week of May. Supply problems started last July, and became increasingly severe starting in February following an Abbott Nutrition recall of Similac, Alimentum and EleCare formula produced at a Michigan plant that had been flagged by the Food and Drug Administration regarding possible Cronobacter and Salmonella contamination. A new statement from Abbott said its review found no evidence linking their formula to four ill infants, but did find positive samples from parts of their manufacturing facility that aren't associated with production.
Last year Facebook announced that companies can no longer buy ads targeting people based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, as well as their health conditions or even their politics. However, it turns out that it's still incredibly easy to target those groups with ads on Facebook, and many companies are availing themselves of the precise workarounds to do it. For instance, while Facebook prevented advertisers from targeting ads specifically to the 93.6 million people who like the Black-interest television network BET, advertisers could still target ads to fans of the BET Hip Hop Awards, whose 10.9 million group members are also in the blocked group 99 percent of the time. Similar strategies can be seen with cancer awareness, which is blocked but also has 62 percent overlap with cholesterol, and with "gay pride," which has a 69 percent overlap with the fandom of RuPaul's Drag Race.
The 2020 census undercounted multiple demographic groups, including undercounts of 3 percent of Black Americans and 5 percent of Hispanic Americans. But the most undercounted group was Native Americans who live on the 325 reservations in the U.S., who were undercounted by 6 percent. That's a problem, because lots of community services on reservations are funded by the federal government; 37 percent of people on the Blackfeet reservation, for example, lived below the poverty line from 2014 to 2018, and with the census data informing how the federal government allocates money, that could mean that health and poverty services will be disproportionately underfunded on reservations.
This week in the Sunday edition I spoke to Ben Lindbergh, who wrote “How Can MLB Fix Its Too-Many-Pitchers Problem?” for The Ringer. The story of baseball’s troubles — how a game appears to become less dynamic and interesting the more that we come to understand it — is an incredibly fascinating one, as are the myriad ways that people want to improve the game. This story and this shift have some serious promise, and Ben’s been advocating for this kind of change for some time.
Thanks to the paid subscribers to Numlock News who make this possible. Subscribers guarantee this stays ad-free, and get a special Sunday edition. Consider becoming a full subscriber today.
The best way to reach new readers is word of mouth. If you click THIS LINK in your inbox, it’ll create an easy-to-send pre-written email you can just fire off to some friends.